The Fourth Special Session (Finally) Ends

Entrance to the Alaska State Capitol building.

Bill Walker’s fourth Special Session ended last Tuesday not with a cheer but with a whimper as the House and Senate gaveled out of pro-forma sessions.

The good news is that they did manage to make some changes to SB 91, the comprehensive revision of state criminal statutes passed in 2016.  The other piece of good news is that the senate majority managed to fend off Governor Walker and the House democrat majority’s attempt to pass an income tax.  The bad news is that they will be right back at it in January with the second regular session.

The goal of SB 91 was to focus on treatment and rehabilitation rather than punishment.  Of course, the treatment and rehab pieces weren’t funded, so we were left with a spiking crime rate as perps were not even arrested for the more minor crimes.  That in turn led to subsequent public outcry to get the problem solved Right. Now. This. Instant.

Was SB 91 the cause of the increase in the crime rate?  Who knows?  Most critics pointed the Flying Fickle Finger of Fate it, ignoring the ongoing recession in the state, loss of 10,000 jobs over the last couple years, growing opioid epidemic (which may very well be due to Governor Walker’s Medicaid expansion two years ago), and other factors.

So, the legislature went back to work in January to either fix the problems of SB 91 or an outright repeal.  The Republican majority in the Senate passed its fix, SB 54 with a 19 – 1 vote on April 7 and sent it to the democrat controlled House where it was assigned to three separate committees and died during the regular session.  Normally the more committees a bill is assigned to the less likely it is to be passed.  This is an old legislative technique used to bury unwanted legislation and works nicely.

But the crime rate kept increasing and the public got increasingly irritated with the legislature and demanded a response.  Governor Walker included a repeal / fix of the original legislation in his call for a fourth Special Legislative Session October 30.  The house majority finally got off the dime and went to work, taking a mere two weeks to modify it a bit and send it back to the senate for concurrence.

The other topic for the Special Session was consideration of an income or sales tax statewide, something the senate majority adamantly opposed, and this is where it gets interesting, for the House majority attempted to use the SB 91 fix as a vehicle to get their beloved income tax on the table.  They modified the fix (SB 54) legislation with obvious constitutional problems so that the senate would reject it, force the whole mess to conference where house conferees thought they could ram through an income tax as an amendment to the crime bill.

The senate saw through the smarmy little game, smiled sweetly, and voted to pass the bill as received from the house.  Then they voted to adjourn and go home.  This infuriated the house majority who blasted away at the very piece of legislation they had all voted for a few days earlier.

Last week, the bill was awaiting transmittal to the governor’s desk.  Rather than vote to adjourn after the senate went home, house leadership decided to pad their per diem checks 11 additional days by holding pro-forma sessions in some vain hope that the senate would come to their senses and return to discuss an income tax.  For their part, the senate refused to play.  Great, great strategy and tactical play by the Senate.

Note that this entire crime wave need not have happened, as the House democrat-led majority had an opportunity to take up a fix to SB 91 on April 7.  But they sat on it for months.  Why?  Probably because it came from their hated colleagues in the Senate.  I am not convinced that they are sufficiently masterful Rocket Scientists to have planned this entire thing out in advance.  Rather, it appears to have been a target of opportunity, one last gasp to grab the brass ring of a new statewide income tax.

The thing voters need to take away from this sordid little tale is the safety of you, your family, your property, businesses, and neighbors takes a back seat to the House democrat-led majority desire to tax your income.  That ought to bother you.  It most certainly bothers me.

Next session and the campaign for legislature and governor elections are going to be most interesting.

Alex Gimarc lives in Anchorage since retiring from the military in 1997. His interests include science and technology, environment, energy, economics, military affairs, fishing and disabilities policies. His weekly column “Interesting Items” is a summary of news stories with substantive Alaska-themed topics. He is a small business owner and Information Technology professional.


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